A Qatari palace.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.  

The signing of an “air service agreement” on May 12, 2016 between the unknown and underdeveloped eastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the well known and super-rich Persian Gulf country of Qatar is certainly bound to raise a lot of incredulous eyebrows. Why Qatar? Why SVG?

Most disbelievers would probably assume that this was just another Ralph Gonsalves publicity stunt along the lines of his silly landing of small LIAT planes on the unfinished Argyle airport during last year’s election campaign. But there is a bit more to this than meets the eye of the skeptical observer.

Given its vast oil and gas wealth, Qatar, an ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim nation bordering Saudi Arabia, has soared from being one of the poorest nations on earth to being one with the highest per capita citizen income level on the planet.

Though the country is governed with an iron fist by a hereditary monarchy, does not allow political parties or trades unions, and is governed by strictly-enforced Islamic Sharia law, it is still ranked by the United Nations, an association where hypocrisy knows no bounds, as a country of very high “human development,” indeed the most advanced of the Arab states when it comes to human development.

As is well known, the presence of traditional Islamic law means that: (1) in Qatar’s Sharia-based family courts, a female’s testimony is sometimes worth half a man’s and in some cases a female witness is not accepted at all; (2) a Moslem man is permitted to have four wives at the same time, suggesting that one man has the worth of four women; (3) flogging is a punishment for alcohol consumption or extra-marital sexual relations. (The punishment for adultery is 100 lashes, a sure death sentence in many cases); (4) stoning is a legal punishment; (5) blasphemy is punishable by up to seven years in prison and trying to convert someone to Christianity can be punished by up to 10 years in prison; and (6) homosexuality is a crime punishable by the death penalty.

Still, as we also well know, politics makes strange bedfellows including when, except for extreme homophobia, there could hardly be two countries in the world that shared so little in so many areas as Qatar and SVG. (Adultery in SVG, for example, generally elicits praise for the “tone boss” who is virile enough “to get wife” — at least if he doesn’t have to pay for it — from another man’s spouse.)

Qatar also differs from SVG in being an influential world nation. For example, the country is considered a “middle power” by global standards and is slated to host the 2022 Fottoball World Cup, a tournament critics argue was obtained by bribing FIFA officials.

Qatar’s 1.8 million population is some 16 times larger than SVG’s but most of these are insecurely employed migrant labourers and lowly service workers who, as elsewhere in the Gulf, are not allowed to acquire citizenship, a status reserved for the host Qatari population of only 278,000 mostly wealthy people. Still, none of these expatriates lives below the poverty line and less than one per cent is unemployed.

According to its Wikipedia entry:

“Established in 2005, Qatar Investment Authority is the country’s sovereign wealth fund, specialising in foreign investment. Due to billions of dollars in surpluses from the oil and gas industry, the Qatari government has directed investments into United States, Europe, and Asia Pacific. As of 2013, the holdings were valued at $ [US] 100 billion in assets. Qatar Holding is the international investment arm of QIA. Since 2009, Qatar Holding has received $30–40bn a year from the state. As of 2014, it has investments around the world in Valentino, Siemens, Printemps, Harrods, The Shard, Barclays Bank, Heathrow Airport, Paris Saint-Germain F.C., Volkswagen Group, Royal Dutch Shell, Bank of America, Tiffany, Agricultural Bank of China, Sainsbury’s, BlackBerry, and Santander Brasil.”

Notably missing from this list is any mention of investment in SVG (or anywhere else in the Caribbean).

Qatar Airways
One of Qatar’s most prized assets is its state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, which flies to “… over 150 international destinations across Africa, Central Asia, Europe, Far East, South Asia, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania … using a fleet of more than 150 aircraft”.

Qatar Airways is not only one of the world’s largest airlines but one of the most prestigious having won the highly regarded World’s Best Airline award three times (2011, 2012, 2015)

Though it is an elite airline if there ever was one, there is no service to the Caribbean or Central America. Indeed, its only two Southern Hemisphere destinations are Brazil and Argentina.

Qatar Airways meal
“It is a new age of airline dining and it is centred around you. Relish extraordinary cuisine designed by world-renowned chefs. Savour exclusive vintages expertly served. An on-demand à la carte service menu lets you enjoy mouth-watering dishes whenever you like. Each seat has a large dining area that makes the perfect setting for world-class dining.” (Qatar Airways website)

Given all these facts, what are we to make of an air service agreement between the two countries that is said to be, “paving the way for airlines to operate any number of flights between both countries without any restrictions”.

With the incompatible cultural differences between the two nation-states and the easy access from Qatar to some of the most desirable holiday destinations in the world in nearby Europe, South Asia, and elsewhere, can we ever expect planeloads of Arab visitors on our shores in the near or distant future? What, for example, will Sharia law adherents make of our high levels of public profanity, indecent female dress, public intoxication, and urban decay, not to mention our libertinism in nearly all things sexual? More important, given that these potential tourists would be very wealthy individuals who would view even the elegant Buccament Bay Resort as below their notice, where would there be for them to stay besides a pricey villa in Mustique, a locale long visited by the rich and famous of the world in the absence of an international airport at Argyle?

If there is a pent-up demand for rich Qataris to fly here on holiday which is unmet only because of a lack of direct flights, why hasn’t this also been true for rich Barbadians who should have been flocking to our nearby shores for decades to visit an island so captivatingly different from their own?

If wealthy Qataris are not going to fly to our still unfinished airport at Argyle via their world renowned state airline, what is behind this agreement besides its public relations implications? The plain answer is that every country, more so Arab ones, need all the friends and allies they can get in an increasingly unstable world. So the most obvious reply to the questions, “Why Qatar? Why SVG?” is that an agreement that contains no promises and no costs is simply one of many examples of the unbalanced reciprocity that exists between rich and poor countries: a harmless diplomatic favour requested by our Prime Minister from one of the richest countries in the world in tacit exchange for continued political and other support from one of the poorest at various world bodies such as the United Nations — nothing more, nothing less.

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This is the 27th in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.

 C. ben-David

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

4 replies on “Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?”

  1. I think you are very wrong. The key thing to this agreement is that argyle meets international standards of travel. Do you have any idea how idyllic St Vincent is to other countries? Mustique, and Bequia attract really rich people, who buy land there and live there. The fact that Qatar has signed an agreement makes me wonder. They have the most luxurious airline in the world, and they recognize us as a destination. Argyle is the biggest investment in infrastructure St Vincent has ever made. I kind of wish they had made that investment in our roads, but I’m a tourist. I just live there two months of the year. I don’t want plane loads of tourists descending on the island. The airport for me is just an efficient means to export your crops, and most of the people I meet are just farmers.

    1. Much or your knowledge of SVG is inaccurate. The writer makes some very good points. I cannot see any other reason so I will agree with the writer. Keep in mind the airport was built for political reasons, as well as for one man’s ego, and not for economic reasons. At this time they are trying to find a way to make the airport actually work, something that was not a consideration in the beginning, otherwise it would have been done much differently.

  2. Jeannine James says:

    lol! I never laugh so much! The best part for me here is about the “pent up demand”. Hahahahhh!

  3. Patrick Ferrari says:

    C. ben,

    You’re right: it doan rhyme.

    Do you remember, seven years ago, two Iranians came here under the aegis of the airport? They were here for what, two, maybe three days? I am sure but it was not four and maybe not have been even three.

    When these two transitory foreigners from the East went out for lunch, the country had to change its culture and give way to the impermanent alien’s uncompromising imposition: the women waitresses had to hide in the kitchen and stay out of their sight. Make-do male waiters served them. The foreign culture won over ours but it was not because we were good hosts. It was more like a hooker who opens up to her john.

    I hope Glen Beache and his SVGTA remembers that and encourage local hoteliers and restaurateurs to employ and train more male staff to accommodate what might turn out be our new tourists’ requirements. And they might need to step up the Education Revolution while they’re at it.

    What ever became of the Iranian’s pledge of help is anybody’s guess but not long after they left, one million greenbacks turned up, some say in a crocus bag, which gave birth to a flurry of instant-like-coffee entrepreneurs, illegally banking wheelbarrow loads of the greenbacks into personal and strange accounts into the then national bank. They were well protected – and one was the protection itself – so the FIU had to go screw itself. That too was transitory because the entrepreneurs’ skills evaporated as conveniently as it flourished.

    Also, at the time I had a column in The News and I called the two towelheads, Towelheads. They earned the slur. The editor and me took a whole lot of flak for that. I suppose I was expected to cock up my backside and accept it – like the flakers did. Me? I must whore myself out for their thirty pieces of silver? Nah. The silver is them own; let them cock up theirs. As they are wont to do in situations like that.

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